Despite Remote Location, Katmai National Park and Preserve Is Economic Boon to Alaska

Katmai National Park, a great destination for watching bears, delivers more than twice the previously thought economic impact to the state of Alaska. NPS photos.

Despite its remote location in southern Alaska, Katmai National Park and Preserve packs a surprising economic clout for the state, generating nearly $40 million a year, according to a study.

The research calculated that park visitors have more than double the economic impact than previously estimated by a National Park Service model. The value added to the Alaska economy by Katmai’s visitors is about $37 million, according to the study; previous estimates had pegged the number at closer to $15 million.

The study was prepared by economist Ginny Fay of EcoSystems of Anchorage, and Christensen Research of Missoula, Montana, in collaboration with the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, for the National Parks Conservation Association. The research contract was funded by the National Park Service.

“Katmai wasn’t established to be an economic engine for Southwest Alaska,” said Superintendent Ralph Moore, “but park visitors and spending by the NPS have grown to be a key component of the region’s economy.”

Ms. Fay and Neal Christensen found that Katmai’s visitors spend about three times more per trip than the average Alaska travelers, according to a release from the Park Service. That spending takes place in the park, and also in neighboring communities.

The report also notes that Alaska’s Katmai visitors spend three out of every five dollars in the five boroughs surrounding the park, including the Municipality of Anchorage. Visitor spending was also found to have supported 647 jobs, 60 percent of which are in the five-borough region.

“We’ve known for a long time that Alaska’s national parks provide tremendous economic advantage to local gateway communities,” said Jim Stratton, NPCA’s Alaska and Pacific Northwest regional director. “Now we have a detailed analysis showing that Katmai’s impact is twice the amount previously estimated. We are anxious to apply this new model to other parks in Alaska as we expect those parks have been under-estimated as well.”

The researchers found that previous economic models were better suited for road-accessible parks with well-defined entrance points. Katmai is off the state road system and reached primarily by air. Beyond visitor spending, Katmai brings other economic benefits to the region that are not accounted for in the study. In addition, the park employs up to 40 people, and pays more than $2.5 million per year in salaries and benefits.

Alaska’s national parks see about 2.3 million visits per year. Katmai was established in 1918 and covers about 4 million acres in southwest Alaska. It is best known for its brown bear viewing, fishing, and hiking opportunities.